George Zimmerman talks of shooting Trayvon Martin in an exclusive, sympathetic interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity
After insisting that unarmed teen Trayvon Martin attacked him out of the blue and beat him so badly he had to shoot the youth to survive the encounter, onetime neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman presented an emotional message to the world, courtesy of an exclusive interview with Fox News Channel anchor Sean Hannity Wednesday night.
"I do wish there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn't have put me in the position where I had to take (Martin's) life," Zimmerman said, turning to look into the camera for the first time at the end of a long interview. "And I do want to tell everyone -- my wife, my family, my parents, my grandmother, the Martins, the city of Sanford and America that I'm sorry this happened. I hate to think that because of this incident, because of my actions, it's polarized and divided America."
Zimmerman was speaking on Fox News Channel's Hannity Wednesday, recounting the events that turned him into the most infamous neighborhood watch captain in history, sparking protests worldwide, the firing of Sanford's police chief and his own arrest on charges of second degree murder. Decrying a "rush to judgment" which cast him as an overeager watch captain who racially profiled an unarmed teen, Zimmerman insisted he was not a racist and acted only in self defense when he shot and killed Martin after a scuffle.
"I feel that it was all God's plan," Zimmerman said, after a series of questions about whether he'd change any of his actions that night. "For me to second guess or judge it..."
Hannity said he flew down to Seminole County Wednesday to speak with Zimmerman, stressing that he has not paid any of the man's legal fees and did not give him anything for the exclusive interview. Still the talk, which filled the entire hour of Hannity's show, at times unfolded like an elaborately sympathetic speech to potential jurors and legal fund contributors -- laying out Zimmerman's claim of self defense through a steady stream of understanding questions.
(Barbara Walters said on ABC's The View this morning that her interview with Zimmerman was canceled after she traveled to Florida when he insisted on something ABC News could not provide; The New York Post says he wanted the network to put him up for a month in a hotel. He apparently called into The View during the show, but Walters declined to speak with him on camera.)
Trayvon Martin's father, Tracy Martin, told CBS This Morning that Zimmerman's word's about "god's plan" made no sense. "I simply really don't know what God George Zimmerman is worshipping, because there's no way that the God that I serve had in his plan for George Zimmerman to murder my son," he said.
On Wednesday, Zimmerman told Hannity he was driving to Target on Feb. 26 for grocery shopping when he spotted Martin walking in the rain in the Sanford subdivision where he lives. "I felt it was suspicious because it was raining...he was in-between houses, cutting in-between houses and he was walking leisurely for the weather," Zimmerman said, noting that he called police to report his suspicions.
Hannity asked if Zimmerman felt in danger from the first moments he met Martin, but he demurred, only noting "his body language seemed confrontational," without elaborating further. When asked why he continued to follow Martin after the police dispatcher noted "we don't need you to do that," Zimmerman said he didn't follow Martin but walked in the same direction the teen headed in, after the youth spotted him.
"I was going in the same direction as him, to keep an eye on him," he added, denying that sounds on the 911 call showed he was running after the youth. "I didn't mean I was actually pursuing him."
Because Hannity didn't do a great job describing the area where Zimmerman's confrontation with Martin took place -- there's a reason why journalists do these kinds of interviews instead of pundits -- it was tough to understand where each person was standing in the moments before their fight began. But, according to Zimmerman, 30 seconds after he turned to walk in the same direction as Martin, the teen reappeared in front of him.
"He asked me what my problem was," Zimmerman said.
"Expletive problem," Hannity interjected, noting Zimmerman's claim that the teen used a curse word.
"Yes sir," Zimmerman responded.
According to Zimmerman, as he reached for where he thought his cellphone might be and then looked up, Martin punched him in the face, breaking his nose. Somehow, he landed on his back and Martin straddled him, beating his head into the concrete they were standing on and hitting him.
Zimmerman said the youth told him he was going to kill him, placing his hands on his mouth to stop him from shouting for help and telling him to shut up. As his shirt rose up, Zimmerman said, the youth saw his gun; they struggled and Zimmerman shot him.
"He sat up and said something to the effect of 'You got it,' or 'You got me,'" Zimmerman said. "I assumed he meant 'Okay, you got the gun, I didn't get it. I'm not going to fight any more."
Zimmerman said he didn't know Martin was dead until an hour after he arrived at the Sanford police station. And Hannity failed to press Zimmerman on simple issues; why he focused on the youth in the first place, whether Martin might have thought the watch captain was reaching for a weapon when he reached for his cellphone, or pressing him on the question of why a youth with no history of violence would attack a man he didn't know without provocation.
Other questions, Zimmerman simply declined to answer, flanked by his lawyer, Mark O'Mara. On the question of why he let the court believe his family had no money during his first bond hearing and seemed to speak in code to his wife over phone calls about the money they collected online, Zimmerman was not allowed to answer by O'Mara, who said his client's wife might still face criminal charges (Zimmerman was eventually rejailed and released on $1-million bond after the judge learned the couple had more than $130,000 collected through donations online).
And when Hannity brought up the statements of a woman known publicly only as Witness 9, who says Zimmerman molested her when they were both children, O'Mara also declined to speak about her, saying the material would never be admissible in court. Zimmerman himself never directly denied the allegations, and Hannity never directly asked him if they were true.
"I think it's ironic that...the one and only person they could find that says anything remotely to me being a racist also happens to be the person that claims I'm deviant," said Zimmerman, noting that an investigation by the FBI could find no evidence he had racist tendencies or habits.
Throughout the interview, Hannity seemed careful to point out issues which helped Zimmerman -- his fear of Martin, the youth's alleged cursing, the "rush to judgment" of media outlets, seemingly mistaken reports claiming he used a racial epithet during his 911 call. The resulting interview allowed Zimmerman to plead his side of the story publicly in a way that might reach potential jurors without taking the witness stand at his trial.
When asked about stories that he called police often to report suspicious black people, Zimmerman said he reported suspicious people of all races, revealing their ethnicity only when police asked.
"The media, the special interests; it seems the narrative they want to make about this case...it's a white guy that killed an unarmed black youth holding Skittles and iced tea," Hannity said, seeming to forget that he's also a media figure who hosts one of cable news' most-watched programs.
Zimmerman said he believes people assumed he was white because of his last name. But Sanford police also listed his ethnicity as white on the initial arrest report, leading news organizations to call him a white male for a while, until other public records indicated otherwise.
In the end, this was an interview which deserved a prepared, evenhanded host, who could allow Zimmerman to challenge inaccuracies and unfairness in how his story has been told while pressing him on the inconsistencies and troubling aspects of his own account. Instead, a well-coached Zimmerman was doled out sympathetic questions by an interviewer who has already shown bucketloads of empathy for his situation.
For example, when Hannity first asked if he regretted leaving his car or carrying a gun that night, Zimmerman said he wouldn't do anything differently. A more objective interviewer might have stated the obvious; an unarmed teen is dead, killed by you while walking back to the apartment of his dad's girlfriend. Surely there's something you would do differently.
Later, at the interview's end, Zimmerman recalled the question on his own and expressed his sorrow. He used similar words earlier in the interview, directed toward Martin's parents.
""I would tell them again that I'm sorry," he said. "My wife and I don't have any children...(But) I love my children, even though they aren't born yet. I am sorry they buried their child."